Google Chromebook and Ubuntu

Sun 16 December 2012 by Xitij Ritesh Patel

I got my Google ARM Chromebook!


I was really excited for this device. I’ve been using a thick, heavy, and relatively underpowered Acer laptop for the last 5 years. I really wanted something thin and light to do my development work on that I could use on the go. This meant moderate power with ample battery life.

The ARM-based Google Chromebook wouldn’t seem the fit the bill, if only for the fact that it uses a custom Chrome OS. However, a Googler named Olof Johansson put up some instructions detailing how you might install Ubuntu onto an SD card.

His instructions worked relatively well, but I would like to supplement it. Olof used rootstock to create his SD card’s root filesystem. I opted to download the ubuntu-core tarball instead from the Quantal Quatzal repo. Continuing with his instructions, I was able to get Ubuntu up and running with the terminal. However, I couldn’t install packages because I didn’t have Internet access. A little bit of troubleshooting led me to 2 possibilities for connectivity: a) wireless b) wired via a USB-to-Ethernet adapter. I don’t have an adapter available, and didn’t want to buy one. Thus, I tried to figure out what I needed to do get wireless working.

Thankfully, Olof’s instructions made sure that we have the wireless module available and loaded, so that reduced a lot of my effort. What I did forget to do was add a user to the Ubuntu installation. I found the easiest way to accomplish this was to mount the SD card in the Chrome OS terminal, chroot to it, and add the user. Make sure to give that user sudo access by adding it to the adm and sudo groups.

After a bunch of trial and error, I found that I needed the following packages to get wireless working sufficiently to allow me to install a desktop environment. I’ve included direct links to the package.

Packages to Install:

Name URL

You can download those packages and put them into /var/cache/apt/archives to ensure that apt-get will find them. Go ahead and boot into Ubuntu, then install those packages. You should have everything you need to connect to a wireless network and complete installing the rest of Ubuntu.

A word of warning: I couldn’t get ubuntu-desktop working with Unity. That’s even with using the packages from the Chromebook-ARM Launchpad project. The first problem was the lack of /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/exynos.conf on the SD card; I simply copied this from the Chrome OS partition. After this, whenever I booted into Unity, I would only have the desktop background. For this reason, I would recommend avoiding Unity, and install xubuntu-desktop instead.

So far, I’m pretty happy with this setup, especially when tied with my Amazon EC2 instance. There are still several deficiencies, such as a good keyboard map, a properly working touchpad, and graphics acceleration. Power management and hibernation support would be nice too. I suppose these are things that will be ported over. I might put some time into doing that myself.

Finally, ARM support for some key programs aren’t there. I can’t get the Dropbox client working, nor could I get an Adobe Flash plugin working for Chromium. Hopefully the upstream maintainers will release ARM versions.


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